Open Letter To The Pope
By Tom Regan
As you move through the second year of your Papacy, all Christians pray
fervently and hopefully for your good health and fortitude on behalf of justice,
mercy and peace-both in the church and in the world.
As someone who shares your commitment to justice to all of God's creatures, I
was delighted by your choice of name: Francis.
Of all the many virtues your Namesake possessed, none is more synonymous with
his name than his love of animals. He called them his "brothers" and "sisters,"
and was famous for preaching to the birds - and even to the fish! On one
occasion, he persuaded a wolf to stop attacking local farmers if the farmers
agreed to feed the wolf. To turn a carnivore into a vegan? Nothing better
represents the power of Saint Francis.
How did Saint Francis think his brothers and sisters in fur, feather and fin
should be treated? He must have believed that what happens to them matters to
them apart from any human interest. Why would he think in those terms? Because
what happens to them makes a difference to the quality and duration of their
life. Either they live a long and fruitful life, which Saint Francis preferred,
or they suffered and died prematurely.
Of course, Pope Francis, like the rest of us, surely believes that ill-treatment
to any of God's creatures surely is against God's will. Whether animals have
rights or not, surely they deserve to be treated with mercy and kindness,
gratitude and sympathy, respect and admiration. Who in their right mind can be
against humane care and treatment of creatures
Well, evidently it depends.
Consider some examples of what happens to animals in research laboratories.
Cats, dogs, nonhuman primates, and other animals are drowned, suffocated, and
starved to death.
They are burned, subjected to radiation, and used as "guinea pigs" in military
Their eyes are surgically removed and their hearing is destroyed.
They have their limbs severed and organs crushed.
Invasive means are used to give them heart attacks, ulcers, and seizures.
They are deprived of sleep, subjected to electric shock, and exposed to extremes
of heat and cold.
Every one of these procedures and outcomes complies with every federal law
everywhere. Each conforms with what federal inspectors count as "humane care and
This same ideology applies to how farmed animals are treated.
It is standard procedure to have "veal" calves spend their entire life
individually confined to narrow stalls too narrow for them to turn around in.
Laying hens live a year or more in cages the size of a filing drawer, seven or
more per cage, after which they routinely are starved for two weeks to encourage
another laying cycle.
Female hogs are housed for four or five years in individual barred enclosures
("gestation stalls"), barely wider than their bodies, where they are forced to
birth litter after litter.
Until comparatively recently, due to the "Mad Cow" scare, beef and dairy cattle
too weak to stand ("downers") were dragged or pushed to their slaughter.
Geese and ducks are force-fed the human equivalent of thirty pounds of food per
day to enlarge their liver, the better to meet the demand for foie gras.
All these conditions and procedures demonstrate the relevant industry's
commitment to mercy and kindness, compassion and sympathy.
And what might "humane" fur farming or trapping permit? Here are some examples.
On fur mills, mink, chinchilla, raccoon, lynx, foxes and other fur bearing
animals are confined in wire-mesh cages for the duration of their life.
Waking hours are spent pacing back and forth, or rolling their heads, or jumping
up the sides of their cages, or mutilating themselves, or cannibalizing their
Death is caused by breaking their necks, or by asphyxiation (using carbon
dioxide or carbon monoxide), or by shoving electric rods up their anus to "fry"
them from the inside out.
Animals trapped in the wild take fifteen hours on average to die.
Trapped fur-bearers frequently chew themselves apart in their futile attempts to
regain their freedom.
Despite it's obvious cruelty, this is all perfectly legal.
Holy Father, all Christians implore you: Speak out about cruelty to God's
creatures, Billions annually are denied all that God intended for them, and they
are treated neither with Christ's mercy nor with God's compassion. Among your
other troubles and concerns, please honor St. Francis of Assisi and the call of
the Catechism by raising your voice on behalf of God's other animals.
Tom Regan is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, North Carolina State
University. Among his major works is The Case for Animal Rights. The editors of
Utne Reader have described Professor Regan as "the philosophical leader of the
of animal rights movement" and named him, along with the Dalai Lama, as "one of
fifty people who are changing the world."